blogadmin | 18 November, 2008 17:58
By Massoud Nayeri, Guest Blogger
We agree we must fight the death penalty. The challenge lies in agreeing how.
Most of us believe unity carries a power all its own. If you need convincing, go to www.marchtoendexecution.org, the site for the 2007 march in Houston. I'm proud I was a small part of a team that made the site possible and of the work we did for the march.
When you look at the site, you will notice the emphasis on the unity of all forces, with a collection of support from Desmond Tutu, Mumia Abu Jamal, Jimmy Carter, Susan Sarandon, Helen Prejean and others.
This is my first concern – working as one. Unfortunately in Houston we have different factions that are working for the same cause but separately. This is a weakness the other side notices and will not hesitate to exploit.
I believe anti-death penalty groups must make it a priority to overcome our differences so we may use effectively the advantages of working synchronously toward our goal .
Beyond pursuing unity, we must analyze the ever-evolving political and social context to devise a strategy based on the new reality.
Most abolitionists would agree the astonishing number of exonerations from DNA testing have tilted public opinion in our favor. But the full impact of these exonerations has not yet been grasped by many in our movement.
The fact is that these nightmarish stories have stirred a deep anger in many Americans. For this reason, I believe we are closer to ending the death penalty in the United States than at any time since the mid-70s, when the goal seemed deceptively within reach.
If European capitalist countries can end the death penalty, as they all have, and still thrive then the American capitalist system also can afford this concession. Like the women's vote or civil rights, death penalty abolition is something the American political system can withstand.
The fact that the president-elect is African-American is in itself an indication that a new reality exists in this country, regardless of Mr. Obama’s conservative views -- in my opinion -- and his statements about the death penalty.
This is not to say the death penalty will be ended without a fight. Social progress has always come at a price. But a well-thought-out, persistent struggle can and must end the current inhumane policy of putting people on death row, locking them up alone in a tiny cell -- in some cases for 20 years or more -- then killing them.
I believe that, at this moment in history, our movement is strengthening in such a way that we stand a good chance of prevailing in a legal fight to end executions.
The Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq opened the eyes of the majority of Americans. Now more than ever they are skeptical about the prison and justice systems. They are more receptive to the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong in U.S. prisons. They want the problems corrected, and they want an end to out-of-control prison policies.
As we prepare for 2009 and new legislative sessions, public opinion is on our side. Americans silently support us, creating what is essentially a new era in the fight against the death penalty. For this new era, we need a new strategy.
Let us organize all of our forces and bring together the best attorneys to select a case where, based on undeniable facts, it can be proven that the state has killed an innocent person.
This approach is not as naïve as it may sound. Activists on both sides of the issue know innocent people have been executed. Proving it in a court of law is another matter. If there is even one case where it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that an innocent person was put to death through an error or an imperfection in the system, then a civilized society must halt this practice.
Any other arguments against the death penalty are not as strong as knowing there is an unacceptable possibility in the system that an innocent person will be killed by the state.
Most politicians who support ending the death penalty but are silent right now would be moved to support legislation dismantling the system in the event of such a court victory.
I believe we still need to march, demonstrate, testify, hold vigils and otherwise continue to take our case to the people. I also believe Execution Watch is a step in that direction and can help educate more people.
But our main fight now should be a legal one, and I believe we have a good opportunity to win.
Massoud Nayeri is a peace and justice activist in Houston.
Elizabeth Ann Stein produces EXECUTION WATCH on KPFT FM Houston 90.1, HD-2 and www.executionwatch.org. The program, hosted by Ray Hill, airs at 6 p.m. Central Time any day Texas executes someone. It is designed to counteract the virtual news blackout in the mainstream media when prisoners are executed. She has worked as a political reporter for United Press International, police reporter at a daily newspaper, and an editor for PC Week.